By Jamila Pomeroy
VANCOUVER – Glamour-evangelist, vintage style icon and international queen of burlesque performer, Dita Von Teese first earned her stage name from a typo in Playboy magazine. When “Von Treese” accidentally became “Von Teese” in the December 2002 issue of the magazine, an icon was born. After a youth spent pining after the lacy lingerie features found during clandestine glances at her father’s collection of the adult magazine, this mistype ended up making rather poetic beginnings. Her love of lingerie stemmed from this early exposure and an infatuation with its imagery, and feminine symbology brought her through the study of historic costuming, and eventually to burlesque. Starting in the early ’90s Von Teese has certainly fulfilled the variety aspect of her career, completing work as a multi-genre model actress, singer, writer, and of course performer.
Von Teese maintains her sincere individuality in all forms of her creative expression. “I want to stay true to my genuine childhood obsessions and have things come from a good place instead of just grasping for straws and making something because it’s successful, or makes money, or because everyone else is doing it,” says Von Teese, who has been in love with Hollywood glamour, costuming and burlesque since she was a child.
Von Teese is known for her dazzling outfits, often encrusted with Swarovski crystals and precious gems. She’s also a classically trained ballerina and has often been described as the sole figure in the resurgence of modern burlesque.
“I feel very lucky to be part of burlesque in this era,” Von Teese says, explaining that she has participated in a wide array of outlets in the industry, beginning with feather dances, strip teases, and acts primarily projected towards the male gaze. Now, Von Teese plays a leading role in the modern feminist movement, facilitating body positivity, and promoting classy sexual liberation. This new flavour of burlesque has made Von Teese one of the biggest name in burlesque in the world since Gypsy Rose Lee; mirroring the 1940’s burlesque and strip-tease founding star in varied talent, innovation, and fearless individuality.
Born Heather Sweet in West Branch, Michigan, her love for the Golden Age of cinema, pin-up imagery and vintage lingerie began early on in life when her mother bought vintage clothing for her and her sister to dress up in. When Von Teese was a teenager, her mother purchased her a plain white cotton bra. This was greatly disappointing as she had hoped to get something beautiful and lacey, like the garments she’d seen in Playboy.
“I think lingerie is very symbolic of womanhood,” she says. “I began working at a lingerie store when I was 15. I just fell in love with the imagery.”
Von Teese has been in the business of classic feminine mystique for the majority of her adult life: her years of experience adding to the polished detail and dazzling extravagance in her performances. She describes her latest show, Dita Von Teese and the Copper Coupe, as a variety burlesque show featuring some of her favourite performers from around the world. The upcoming tour includes many visual elements of copper, from the costuming to the set design and props. We can expect to see a new act in a giant copper shell (visually resembling Sandro Botticelli’s painting, The Birth of Venus), as well as the reinvention of her classic martini glass act, this time with a new giant filigree copper coupe decked out in lavish crystals. The Von Teese martini act has become a symbol of modern burlesque, an old hollywood-glam-esque strip tease act, ending with Von Teese dancing in an oversized martini glass filled with water, often ending with her in just underwear and nipple tassels. Von Teese is to sport a variety of ornate and dazzling haute-couture costuming; including some sponsored by Swarovski, and designed by renowned British designer, Jenny Packham. According to Von Teese, the show involves a variety of new acts, many featuring her own music. “The show features some unreleased remixing of my music,” says Von Teese who made her music debut in February with her self-titled album via Record Makers. Von Teese was approached by French music icon Sebastien Tellier to produce the album.
Widely reflective of her personal branding and life expression, Von Teese’s extension to music comes naturally, having previously worked with ex-husband Marilyn Manson and being featured in songs with artists such as Die Antwoord. Sonically, her music falls into the genre of dream-pop and french art pop, often sampling electronic drum beats and ’80s-esque synths. The album has undertones of ’70s french pop like Jane Birkin, as Von Teese’s vocals are painted with whispery sophisticated sexiness.
Von Teese shares her new act, “Lip Tease,” originated from her collaboration with MAC cosmetics, was sparked from a prop used in a collaboration act. “One night I was in Canada, I think in Toronto, after a show I had this idea of bringing this act back in a brand new way.”
Extending from her love of glamour and vintage wear into physical expressions of her classic taste, Von Teese shares wearable styles with her clothing, lingerie line Von Follies and design partnerships with brands like Australian department store Myer. Von Teese has also released her own fragrance and a strip-tease candle, the first of its kind, which is stripped of its dress while burning. The icon is closely connected in the fashion world, being friends with fashion icons such as Christian Louboutin who designed a shoe after Von Teese.
With the lavish decorum Von Teese presents in her creative expression, it’s easy to feel as if this level of glamour is unattainable to the regular folk. While Von Teese lives a life encrusted in diamonds and gold (or copper presently), she remains in tune with reality, the working class and her roots. Born in a small farming town in Michigan with a limited income, she learned from a young age how to achieve classy vintage looks without breaking the bank.
“Vintage beauty is the first thing I fell in love with, because it’s not expensive. It requires patience, and wanting to learn how to do it,” she explains, suggesting quality over quantity, taking care of and proper maintenance of garments and, most of all, not fearing getting clothing tailored. “I started shopping for vintage clothes because I couldn’t afford designer clothes. So I would look for dresses that I could get tailored to make them look a little more modern. I’ve been in vintage stores where I’ve heard people say ‘it doesn’t really fit me’, and i’m thinking, ‘you have to get everything tailored.’ The dress was like $50, get the waist taken in. That’s the difference between having a nice dress and looking spectacular!”
With expressions of classy vintage glam spanning in so many directions, it’s natural to wonder what is next for the burlesque queen and entrepreneur. “Of course I would love to explore beauty again,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of opportunity to jump into bed with many cosmetics companies. I would like to take my time in creating cosmetics that I truly believe in.”
While Dita Von Teese cosmetics won’t materialize in time for her tour this month, you can dig deeper into Von Teese’s vintage style suggestions, tips and tricks in her book, Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide To Eccentric Glamour, a 400-page fully immersive book featuring timeless fashion advice, her personal lifestyle regimes and hundreds of lavish colour photographs.
From reading hidden Playboy’s to an empire of feminine sensuality, Dita Von Teese continues to wow us with her powerful sultry presence. This time we can look forward to her gifts presented in the glamourous package of a copper shell. Von Teese’s latest tour brings many elements of the old to new territory through her well thought out innovation, taking on new light and purpose like a newly polished vintage copper coupe, filled with the class and elegance of a fine vintage wine.
Dita Von Teese performs at The Queen Elizabeth Theatre (Vancouver) on June 15.
VINTAGE VON TEESE: THE LOOK
Appearing periodically on a number of best-dressed lists, BeatRoute got the inside scoop on Dita Von Teese’s top five vintage style must-haves.
1. Red lipstick
“Red lipstick is really one of the top vintage beauty essentials” says Von Teese. “I encourage everyone to find a red that works for them. I like vibrant, joyful colours on the lips. It’s the hallmark of vintage style.”
2. Stockings and Garter Belts
“Stocking are like lipstick (is to) the face”
“I love stockings and garter belts. I think they are classic and elegant, erotic, and sophisticated all at once. I love that it can, I think, add glamour to your life. They can be a secret, whether for you, or your partner.”
3. Form Fitting Coat
The “fast track to glamour at all times.”
Von Teese is known for her glamorous entries, which her beautiful form fitting coats attribute to. “People always ask me how I get off of airplanes looking so glamorous, and I think, it’s the coat and the sunglasses.”
4. 1940s Half Moon Manicure
“This is the style I have been wearing since I was 18 years old,” Von Teese says. The half moon manicure, commonly now known as “The Dita Von Teese Manicure,” originated in the late ’30s (more popularly worn in the ’40s), and is suspected to be the product of wartime utilitarian necessity, with the exposed natural nail half moon increasing durability, and saving nail polish.
5. Black High Heels
“You can’t go wrong with a nice, simple, black high heel shoe,” she advises.“Buy the best shoes you can afford, buy the best ones you can and take care of them. Have them resoled when they begin to wear thin.” “I always think back to my Louis Vuitton’s I bought back in the ’90s, when you walked into Saks Fifth Avenue and, you know, there were two pairs. I noticed that red sole immediately and I had to have them, even though they were beyond my budget. I still have those shoes, and I wore them for years and years.”